Reports of the signings of New Japan Pro Wrestling stars AJ Styles, Shinesuke Nakamura, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson really did shock the wrestling world. Despite the WWE’s best attempts at keeping the signings a secret, the news was eventually broken. Plans were reportedly in place for the likes of AJ Styles to actually compete in the 2016 Royal Rumble match. However, I fear that those plans may now be changed, considering that the cat is now out of the bag. WWE may want to go out of their way to shock us but I say continue with Plan A.
WWE’s been very short on long-term planning in the last few years, with the likes of the Undertaker’s streak ending being decided four hours before the event. In some cases I totally disagree with it, but in some cases it’s not always a bad thing. With the likes of Seth Rollins and John Cena suffering long term injuries, you can’t really afford to make long term plans if things go wrong.
Changing plans because of injuries is fine, as these things are just something you can’t prepare for. Changing plans because storylines were leaked however aren’t the appropriate measures to take. It’s certainly not appropriate to go out of your way to swerve the audience, when you’ve got something great in place for them already. Whether the news of AJ Styles came out or not, him entering the Royal Rumble would have gotten an incredible pop. If anything, I would argue that it would actually help the pop for AJ if the news had gotten out.
I want to just state before I go on that wrestling fans are not idiots. A lot of them have the internet and a lot of them are well aware about other wrestling promotions. It’s possible that AJ would get a strong reaction if he showed up unannounced but I’m highly doubtful that it would get an extremely big reaction without the news. The Royal Rumble is one of the WWE’s biggest events. There could be a lot of casual viewers tuning into the Royal Rumble and I’m sure I’m right when I say that these viewers would have no idea who AJ Styles is.
Without that leak, there was always going to be a portion of the crowd that is sat there silently thinking “Who is AJ Styles?” If AJ wasn’t announced beforehand, those fans wouldn’t have had a clue. With the news though, it actually aids WWE in their bid to build anticipation for the likes of Styles, Nakamura, Gallows and Anderson. Those casual fans now have the time to do a bit of digging about who these people are. That builds anticipation a lot more than if WWE would have tried to make this a surprise.
I also mean no disrespect when I say that AJ Styles is no Sting. When Sting signed for WWE, the WWE already had the WCW content on the WWE Network and other means for their younger WWE fans to find out just who he is. It’s not like WWE can just grab some TNA footage of AJ and shot it on the network. WWE have hardly ever hinted or mentioned TNA in any form of media, and it’s not like they’re willing to go out of their way to discuss wrestlers that aren’t even with the company.
That’s not on WWE as that’s not their job. Their job is to promote the talent that they’ve got. To say that they’ve completely neglected other wrestling companies would be an out-right lie. They’ve worked with other wrestling promotions in the past and have mentioned independent wrestlers like AJ and Samoa Joe in articles about Ring of Honor before they signed. The point is, you can’t expect casual and young wrestling fans to automatically figure out who these men are before they enter the WWE ring for the first time. That’s what vignettes are for. That’s what WWE.com is for. That’s what WWE games are for. Sting was announced for WWE 2K15 a few months before he debuted on WWE television.
Wrestling fans must be aware that WWE are trying to appeal to the majority of THEIR fan base. In order to make these fans aware about who these men are, the leaks have played to their advantage. They can know take control of the narrative and build anticipation for the eventual arrival of these men. What have they been having Finn Balor and John Cena do on Twitter and Instagram? They posted a number of Bullet Club/AJ Styles related messages which get people excited. Finn had an interview with WWE.com, talking about the rumours. The hardcore wrestling fans, that know who the Bullet Club is, will go nuts. The casual wrestling fans, that don’t know who they are, can find out and get excited. It works so well for WWE.
If they were to change their plans just because word got out about their arrival, that would be detrimental. Some times, it works for the best if we know ahead of time that something’s going to happen. If WWE keep building up and building up these signings only for nothing to happen at the Royal Rumble, the fans that have gotten so excited are going to feel let down.
It was like at Extreme Rules 2012, when Kharma was supposed to come back and win the Divas title. Word got out and they decided against it. They went with the returning Layla to come back and win the title, and the crowd just didn’t care in the slightest. Remember when Matt Hardy turned on Jeff Hardy in 2009 and revealed himself as the mastermind behind his attacks from the last few months? Originally, the plan was for the returning Christian to reveal himself as the mastermind. When word got out what WWE were planning to do, WWE changed their minds.
WWE going out of their way to shock us sometimes isn’t the best way to go, especially if you don’t have a good enough back-up plan. I enjoy unpredictability as much as the next guy but I’d prefer the best storyline WWE can give me. If they’ve got a plan for AJ, Shinsuke, Doc and Karl, I would much rather they stick with it. I want a storyline that truly is too sweet.